(Please note that this is a satirical piece)
How can our churches communicate a positive, welcoming message to straight, married men, without compromising the gospel?
The question is a complex one. We know, of course, that Jesus challenged people to put aside a strong sense of family loyalty in order to follow him (Luke 14:26). We know that married men find it extremely difficult to live out Jesus incredible strict code of sexual ethics. And we know the scientific evidence points to some sort of genetic or biological basis for a male orientation toward promiscuity. Straight men are, as far as the scientific literature goes, almost certainly born that way. Their desire to be with more than one woman is seemingly grounded in powerful evolutionary-biological realties. And we know that conversion therapy is overwhelmingly ineffective when it comes to changing that fundamental urge in men. It seems that this disordered desire for men to be with more women than their wives is something they will live with for the rest of their lives.
Scientific evidence points to some sort of genetic or biological basis for a male orientation toward promiscuity. Straight men are born that way.
And yet, we need to have a positive message for people in the male, married community. The world has a vision for them. Indeed, the world celebrates them. If male, married men get the impression that church just isn’t a place for them, that they are just “too complicated” for Jesus, we will be failing in our mission.
So, what to do?
First, we should express our sincere welcome. The last thing we want to do is give them the impression that they are a problem to be solved, or that they represent a degree of complexity that we as a church are unwilling to face. And yet, we want to be clear about the repentance and change Jesus will demand of them. He finds us, but does not leave us, as we are.
I think our message should be something like the following:
“Welcome to our community! We are so glad you want to learn about Jesus. Jesus has changed our lives. We love him to bits. He has brought us forgiveness, purpose, life, and joy. Following him is hard, and it involves sacrifice. But we think it is totally worth it, and we hope and pray that you’ll come to the same conclusion. Welcome!”
I don’t think we need to raise the difficult questions too early on. It is important for married men to be able to explore the message of Jesus at their own pace and in their own time. Let Jesus himself raise the awkward issues in due course.
It is important for married men to be able to explore the message of Jesus at their own pace and in their own time. Let Jesus himself raise the awkward issues in due course.
Name the Elephant
Secondly, however, I do think it’s important to be up-front, and eventually name the elephant in the room. I think in the context of a relationship of trust and concern, we could raise the issue something like this:
Being a Christian is putting Jesus in the driver’s seat of your life. I noticed here on your contact card you said you were a married, straight man. I guess you realise that your community has a terrible track record at living out the sexual code of Jesus, so I just wanted to raise that with you now.
I need to be totally up front and say this—if you make the call to follow Jesus, part of that will be living the way of Jesus when it comes to your sex life and your sexuality. And for Jesus that is, simply, faithfulness within marriage and celibacy outside of it.
As a married guy that will mean no use of porn, no extra-marital affairs, no breaking of your marriage vows etc.
Now, I know that science teaches us that men in particular are hard-wired to desire and seek sex outside of marriage. I know that there is a scientific consensus that the orientation of men toward promiscuity has a firm biological basis.
And, to be honest, in my pastoral experience, even when guys pray that God would take that desire away, my observation is that he doesn’t. Most men I know live with this battle for the rest of their lives. Following Jesus will mean sometimes putting aside certain desires and opportunities, in order to attend to other goods, such as the promises you made, the children God has given you, the good of the community in which you live and move.
It will take discipline and it will be hard.
But, brother, can I encourage you, following Jesus is totally worth it! Not easy, but worth it.
I can testify that Jesus will meet us in our need. He doesn’t promise to take away those desires, but he does promise to meet us with the power of his Spirit. It is possible to live his way. And Jesus has bucket-loads of grace and forgiveness for us when we fail. And the great thing about church is that there are heaps of other brothers who are in exactly in your situation. Guys that struggle with what you struggle with, and who can share that with you and have you back.
I think that, or something like it, is what we should be saying to straight, married men who are interested in following Jesus. We don’t need to hide how difficult it will be for them, but we can and should at the same time cast a positive vision for what following Jesus will be like. And we can trust God to do his work in them and through them.
…And also for the same-sex attracted
And, as you by now have perhaps guessed, I think something like that sort of welcome is the one we can and should extend to same-sex attracted people.
My worry here is that same-sex attracted people are treated a uniquely complicated when it comes to following Jesus. That just can’t be true. The fact that we don’t hesitate when it comes to married men, or even entertain the thought that they (we!) are a complicated prospect for Jesus in this area, says more about our inbuilt prejudices that it does about our grasp of what discipleship to Jesus actually involves.
The Gospel of Jesus invites and confronts all of us whether we are straight, married, single or same-sex attracted. We all need to be challenged by the vision of the new life that he holds out to us. We all need to hear that Jesus understands and invites us to come to him as the struggling sinners we are.
If we can remember this as ministers and churches, I think will help us extend—not just a timid welcome—but an enthusiastic, extravagant, open-armed embrace to people of a same-sex orientation.
We can express that welcome in terms of a vision for life in Christ and what that might look like for them. And we can do so in a way that also takes account of the high demands Jesus places on all who follow him, including in the area of our sexual lives.
Not only can, but must.